What is arguably considered for many gamers the most anticipated game of the year, Elden Ring finally releases after much anticipation. It's a return to form for FROMSOFTWARE, their first title since 2019's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While Sekiro was a linear action game, Elden Ring picks up where Dark Souls 3 left off in terms of exploration. As the Souls games and titles developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki are considered the bar in gaming difficulty, does Elden Ring follow the same controversies?
Hidetaka Miyazaki is the mastermind behind the Souls games, Sekiro, and now Elden Ring. Beginning with 2009's Demon Souls, each of his games follows a "hardcore" aesthetic. His games are known for their brutal lack of hand-holding, giving players a sense of everything being larger than life. None of the games are impossible to beat, with most titles including cheap abusable tactics to breeze through content. However, Miyazaki's titles encourage the player to explore as it's often not clear what to do next. That is perfectly fine.
The Journey IS The End Goal
Elden Ring is considered to be a true open world, where the bulk of a player's journey is exploring its expansive world. This is evident with the graphics, as I truly believe that this is one of the most beautiful Souls games ever developed. The world around the player, as they are not prancing on a horse and fighting everything that walks, is meant to be taken in. Lush foliage as tall as the player surrounds them and each location has a different aesthetic to separate from the next.
These dynamic changes are sometimes the only way to tell the player that they are making progress. An early example for me was when I entered the Stormfoot Catacombs, which pinpointed all the checkmarks of what a "catacombs" should be like. Is this somewhere I needed to go? Is this a part of Elden Ring's conquest? I didn't know but this was the first real location that differed from the overworld. Also, yes I ignored the guy on the horse. I saw him mess enough players up to be another statistic. I'm a smart coward.
Elden Ring's Setup Is Easier Than Previous 'Souls'
Before I get too ahead of myself, there are several discoveries about the game itself that I found out before I started the game. The copy we had was the PS4 version of Elden Ring, which has a free PS5 upgrade as most PS4 games do. Players who begin Elden Ring from their PS4 can have the option to continue their progress on the PS5 version via a save transfer on the main menu. However, once progress is started on the PS5 version, it cannot be transferred to the PS4 version.
The character creation is top-notch, allowing the player to highlight every detail to create as accurate of a character as they wish. Like in previous souls games, there are various classes to choose from yet they affect starting level, attributes, and weapons. A player who starts as a Vagabond, for example, can decide to become a caster if they wish. In my case, I went as a Confessor as I thought the description of the class sounded cool. Little would I know that it's just a cooler Paladin class...
Like 'Souls', Elden Ring Has Several "Gotcha" Moments
After a brief introductory sequence, the player will go up against their first "boss," much like the intro sequence to Dark Souls. As this is one of Miyazaki's own titles, expect references to his own titles as well as similar games. After you lose the first boss, you'll get sent to the chasms and the real game begins. Controls are as to be expected from a Souls game, as movement is tight. Deaths in this game were seldom because I lost control of my character but because I panicked.
Back to the Catacombs, there are several chokepoints where goblins will ambush you. If you enter a room unprepared, they will strike from the corners, walls, and ceilings. Elden Ring quickly teaches you to enter each room cautiously while taking advantage of your target lock. The goblins don't hit too hard, but they will do enough damage to kill you if you allow them. In numbers, they are an adequate threat but ER also teaches you to pick your battles.
What The Dog Doing?
Eventually, I reached my first boss, which will change for each player depending on where they wound up. For me, it was the infamous Erdtree Burial Watchdog that awaited me in the Catacomb depths. The reason for the 'infamous' bit is because even before I was able to play ER, I've seen this doggy featured in several tweets. Looking back at the tweet, I'm certain that this was considered bait. Still, it's amusing seeing someone walk in with their face as they get pummeled by a sword instantly.
From someone who hasn't played a Souls game in years and who had notoriously struggled in games like Nioh 2, I didn't find the Dog impossible. It was difficult, sure, but it was challenging in a "fight this dog the way the game intends you to" sort of way. I quickly learned that if the dog stood on his hind legs, he was going to quickly strike me from above. Then as he rested on all fours he would strike me with combos until I ran away. If I ran he would leap in the air and strike me from above, causing AOE damage. Occasionally, he would shoot fire with a mid-range distance.
Who's A Good Boy?
After several deaths and identifying the best times to strike, I was able to bring the doggy on his knees. It helped that my shield was real affected in blocking damage, leaving him open for me to attack. The Confessor's shield is amazing against physical attacks and their starting stamina pool meant I could keep the offense if possible. I would assume other classes that'd benefit from range could cheese them out better, but I played to my class's strengths once I found what they were. Needless to say, defeating the boss was a feeling of relief and accomplishment. That's the beauty of Elden Ring, aside from its visual beauty, it rewards the player with exploration and perseverance.
This was what I meant when I said "the journey is the ride." I've been playing for a while during the recording and all I got to show for it was a catacomb exploration, but I felt something I hadn't felt playing Dark Souls or Bloodbourne. Elden Ring didn't hold my hand, but it didn't throw me in the chasm either. Miyazaki and FROMSOFTWARE were able to find a balance between what made their games amazing in one package and that's a feat in itself.
Elden Ring is out on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.